Some hot rodders think all the great old barn finds don't exist anymore. Not us. We've been hearing (and publishing) a lot of stories lately about vintage tin that has been holed up behind closed doors for years only to be eventually discovered and rescued. Here's one more.
It's hard to imagine somebody not wanting a '36 Ford coupe, but that's how this story begins. Way back in 1957, an ambitious hot rodder installed a dual-quad NASCAR Y-block under the hood of the otherwise bone-stock five-window. With no modifications to a drivetrain originally built to handle an 85hp Flathead, it wasn't long before an engine built to win NASCAR races started chewing up transmissions like they were potato chips (16 in one summer, we were told). The coupe's frustrated owner rolled his car into a Chicago-area warehouse and walked away. For 45 years.
Jim Evans heard the story from Tim O'Connell at O'Connell Specialties, a rod shop in Plainfield, Illinois, near Chicago. Tim found out about the off-the-radar coupe in 2002 and bought it just to get it back in circulation. Based on Tim's description, Jim decided to buy the car sight unseen. He hooked up a battery, added some gasoline, filed the points, and the NASCAR Y-block started right up. When he got around to stripping the original paint, he discovered dent-free, rust-free sheetmetal. With such perfect raw material for the project, Jim decided to keep outward modifications low-key, "integrating all of the small details and changes into the car and still making it look like it could be a car from a '36 Ford sales brochure," as he put it.
The NASCAR engine that ate all those transmissions was sold to help finance the project, and replaced with a more streetable 312ci Thunderbird engine. The oval track personality is retained in the form of a NASCAR air cleaner, modified by Jim to cover the single four-barrel carburetor. The body was lowered over the '36 'rails for an improved profile, but the lines were kept stock, with a few minor changes. Even the redone interior reflects the preserved history of the '36, with the type of modifications the first owner might have made in the 1950s.
The buildup took 22 non-consecutive months, spread out over five years, and with assistance from Nick Kraly, Tim O'Connell, and a few other folks. The coupe was completed in time for Jim to drive it to some national events in 2007, where it got far more attention than Jim expected. "I thought it would be a 'walk-by' car," he told us.
There was no way we could walk by the long-lost '36. And, since we heard its story, we can't drive by an old warehouse, barn, or garage without wondering if there's some neglected old-time iron behind those doors-something like this coupe-waiting to be hauled out, built up, and set loose.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1936 Ford Coupe
The body needed to sit a little closer to the ground, so Jim added a 5-inch dropped beam axle, reversed the front spring eyes, removed a couple of the stock leaves, stuck homemade lowering blocks between the axle and the pair of parallel rear leaf springs, and cut a pair of C-notches out of the rear of the original framerails. The 'rails were boxed in the rear for rigidity, and the X-member was rebuilt to make it removable in case the transmission needs to be pulled out. The frontend was further modified with tube shocks, spindles, and split 'bones from a '37 Ford, and custom steering arms controlled by a Vega box. Antisway bars were bolted in at the front and rear. The front brakes are from a '56 Ford pickup. Rear brakes come from a '76 Granada, which also provided the 3.55:1 gear rearend.
One of the star attractions of the '36 is the Ford Y-block. Sterling Engine in Rockford, Illinois, did the machine work on the 312ci Thunderbird engine, rebuilt by Jim. The Ford NASCAR air cleaner is a reminder of the trans-eating dual-quad NASCAR engine dropped between the fenders back in the 1950s. Jim built a base to set it over an Edelbrock 500-cfm carb on a Thunderbird manifold. The stock heads were modified with hardened valve seats with an Isky cam and lifters as part of the valvetrain, and topped with-what else?-the stock Thunderbird covers. Glasspack mufflers barely tone down the Chevy small-block headers, modified by O'Connell Speciaties to fit the Y-block. The Mallory dual-point ignition was converted to PerTronix electronics. Jim grafted Chevy shift linkage to the '36 Ford shifter operating a BorgWarner-built T5 from a '94 S-10 pickup.
Wheels & TiresJim chose the rim and tire combo to complement the resto-rod appearance of the coupe. That means 16-inch '40 Ford wheels dressed up with '40 Standard V-8 caps and custom-mix cream-colored paint to match the firewall and steering wheel. The wide-white bias-ply Firestone tires measure 7.00-16 and 5.50-16.
Body & PaintStarting with desirable original sheetmetal, Jim's plan was to keep the body mods inconspicuous. Maybe you spotted the two additional horizontal bars on the hood panel trims. He also removed the spare tire and shortened the taillight stands and rear bumper supports just enough to pull both in closer to the body. The stock headlights were replaced with slightly updated lights from a '41 cabover pickup truck. The top was finished with a LeBaron Bonney insert. O'Connell Specialties recessed the firewall to fit the Y-block. The coupe went to Ron Kral in Lockport, Illinois, for final body prep and paint. Jim identifies the color as "pimp blue." "It's a long story," he says. Someday we'd love to hear it.
InteriorThe stock bench seat was in good shape after 45 years of not being sat on. Covering it in stock wool broadcloth was a great decision, and the crew at Schobers Hot Rod Interior in Yorkville, Illinois, did the job using a LeBarron Bonney kit. The woodgraining on the dashboard and garnish moldings was handled by Cliff McCillop of Rochester Hills, Michigan. Classic Instruments provided the in-dash gauges. A two-piece Sun tach ("that actually works," Jim boasts) is mounted on the custom column. The critical component not shown is the driver. With hands on the '48 wheel and feet on the '39 pedals, Jim fills that function every chance he gets.
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